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September 2008

September 23, 2008

First Wolf Workshop Is Major Success

Fresh wolf tracks found along the side of a forest road. (Rob Miller)
Fresh wolf tracks found along the side of a forest road.
(Photo: Rob Miller)

Last week we had our first wildlife photography workshop and wolf habitat expedition. Twenty-one people showed-up for the photography workshop led by renowned Idaho photographer, Larry Thorngren.

Larry set up a small art gallery in the classroom where the workshop was being held, so people arriving early could take a look at some of the fabulous photos of the wildlife in the northern Rockies and Canada. People brought in their own cameras so they could ask questions about the best settings, accessories, and lenses to use, and Larry answered everything they wanted to know. He also went through the basics of camera theory and practice, before moving onto more practical lessons such as the best place to set up photography blind and the ethics of photographing wild animals. He interlaced all this information with tales of face-offs with bears, shooting (with a camera) some of the world’s biggest bighorn sheep, and how he sold his house to buy more camera equipment. At the end of the workshop many people staying behind to ask more detailed questions about photography and about Larry’s work.

One of the wolf tour participants taking photos in Idaho's wolf country. (Jesse Tiberlake)
One of the wolf tour participants taking photos in Idaho's wolf country.
(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

The second part of the workshop was a one day expedition to wolf country. We all met up at a Forest Service Road in a central Idaho location early Saturday morning.

This area near the Frank Church Wilderness is equivalent to Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, except better. Here you will find a number of wolf packs; bears, elk, sand-hill cranes, otters and pikas, and the creeks here are filled with salmon and cutthroat trout. Carter Niemeyer, former Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, joined us for the day to explain his trapping and collaring work, and to answer any questions about wolves in general. He has been involved with wolf recovery since the reintroduction (in fact he was involved in the trapping of the original reintroduced wolves from Canada) and so knows more than most about wolves in the Northern Rockies.

We spent much of the day driving around the many meadows and forests that make up this area, stopping every so often so the photographers could snap pictures of the wildlife and scenery. Larry would help out with any technical camera questions, and Carter informed the group about wolves and wolf recovery which the participants enjoyed hearing.

Wolf watchers setting up their cameras and scopes at dusk (Jesse Timberlake)
Wolf watchers setting up their cameras and scopes at dusk.
(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

As the end of the tour approached we had still not seen a wolf, although this was not surprising as it was in the middle of the day, a time when wolves are usually bedded down someplace. On the way back to the highway, we stopped by a hunting camp to see how things were going. The elk hunters at the camp told us that they heard wolves howling the last two nights in the meadow behind their camp. Hearing this, we decided to prolong our trip and check out the meadow. It was still early for wolves, but you never know! We parked our cars, hiked up to a tree covered ridge overlooking the meadow, set up our spotting scopes and cameras, and waited.

Wworkshop_meadow_miller
A black wolf pup in an open meadow in the Boise Nat. Forest
(Photo: Rob Miller)

Wolfworkshop_robmiller
A wolf pup seen across a meadow in the Boise National Forest
(Photo: Rob Miller)

After about a half hour, an eagle-eyed member of the expedition (me) spotted a small black canine, way over on the other side of the meadow. Others swung their scopes that way and a few of us had the pleasure of seeing a wolf pup run about near the tree-line for about thirty seconds before disappearing into the woods. We waited some more before deciding to call it a day and head back home. However, a few of the participants decided to brave the cold September night and stayed out until dark, and they were rewarded with views of at least four wolf pups playing in the meadow, and they managed to take a couple of photos as well - as you can see.

All in all it was a great day, and all the participants enjoyed themselves, as did all of us. We hope to show the state agencies and tourism board here in the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, that there are a large number of people who enjoy seeing wolves, and are very happy to ‘catch and release’ them with their cameras instead of with guns. These people should have just as much say in wolf management as the hunters and outfitters do.

September 17, 2008

A Great Victory for Northern Rockies Wolves

Wolves protected again!
FWS voluntarily removes delisting rule

WolfhowlistockAccording to recent statements by senior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials, FWS intends to rescind its own wolf delisting rule - issued in March - sometime this week. This will place the Northern Rockies gray wolf back under federal protections.

This action comes on the heels of a decision in July by the U.S. District Court in Missoula granting a request by a coalition of twelve conservation groups for a preliminary injunction, which temporarily placed wolves back under federal protection. The court determined that plaintiffs were likely to prevail against FWS on its claims that delisting was premature because of concerns regarding genetic isolation and the adequacy of state management plans. FWS now intends to ask the court to remand the issue to FWS so it can reconsider its delisting decision.

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This is a great victory for wolf conservation in the Northern Rockies and everyone working for wolf conservation.

We're extremely pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally bowed to reality by recognizing that there are serious scientific and legal problems underlying their delisting rule – as biologists and conservation groups have said since this flawed delisting rule was proposed, and which the federal court clearly recognized this summer.

This action is vital for the continued survival of wolves in the region. The delisting of wolves was inappropriate and illegal in large part because existing state management plans are inadequate to ensure the long term conservation of wolves in the region, allowing far too many wolves to be unnecessarily killed.

We are glad the wolves are back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act and we hope that the next administration will put politics aside when making wolf management decisions, instead making them based on sound science and the participation of all interested stakeholders.

We hope that the state agencies will take this opportunity to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups to revisit their plans and put the long term conservation of wolves in the wild in the forefront of future wolf management efforts. If they do, we are confident that agreement can be reached on science-based responsible, balanced management plans that will benefit wolves, ranchers, hunters, Northern Rockies residents and all Americans who care deeply about wildlife conservation.

September 05, 2008

Shepherd for a Night

....It was the guard dogs barking that woke me up, and only then did I hear the two wolves howling on the ridge line above me. It was four o’clock on a chilly Monday morning, and I was huddled in my sleeping bag lying on top of a rocky outcrop. The sky was exceptionally clear and the Milky Way shone brightly above me, the moon having dipped below the horizon hours before. The wolf howls seemed to be coming just a hundred or so yards away, although it was hard to tell as it was so quiet out here in the foothills of the Boulder Mountains.

Jessetelemetry
This is me, Jesse Timberlake, trying to track collared wolves using telemetry equipment.

I grabbed my telemetry equipment to see if it was the Alpha male or female that was making the entire ruckus, or maybe both. I turned on the receiver and scanned all the channels, but did not pick up a single signal, so either these were the uncollared sub-adults of the Phantom Hill pack, or a different pack altogether that was new to the area. On any other night I would have been happy to just sit under the stars and listen to the wolves howl away, but this night my job was to guard the nearby sheep band, the sheep band that was in the same direction that the howls were coming from. Throwing on my boots and grabbing my spotlight and air-horn, I started running up the hill sounding the horn and shining the light were I thought they might be. After a minute or so I stopped making noise and listened, I could not hear the wolves any more, and I was not able to catch them in my spotlight, which was fine by me. I sat down near the band and waited to see if the wolves would come back, but the sheep settled down again and the guard dogs stopped barking so I was content that the wolves were on their way.

Luckily there were three big Pyrenees guard dogs with this band that were able to make some noise and wake me up. These dogs are great as predator alarms, but they are no match for a wolf and there should be a human nearby to scare the wolves off as there was in this case. In the Phantom Hill wolf pack there are two animals that are collared, and so we often can tell when they are in the vicinity, but as last year's pups get older they start to go off on their own, and as they are uncollared telemetry will not pick them up. This evening we had decided not to put fladry up as the terrain was very rocky and also very steep. But after the close encounter with the wolves you can bet we started using fladry on all the following nights, as well as setting up RAG alarm boxes. Even with all the best tools and technology at ones disposal, producers are finding that one of the best methods is increased human presence as wolves are still wary of people.

The day after all this excitement, I met up with three different documentary producers who were all interested in the proactive work we were doing out in central Idaho, and how producers were working together to try and reduce conflicts between predators and livestock. The Forest Service, USDA Wildlife Services, Defenders and the producers all went on a field trip to show the filmmakers where we worked and what it entailed on a day-to-day basis. They got some great footage and we will keep you posted on when these films come out so you can see what these projects involve, and how they work.

September 04, 2008

Feeding Habits of Wolves

Yesterday's article in the Billngs Gazette sheds some light on the reasons behind the prey wolves choose, and the unique ways wolves have adapted to survive each season.

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